Yosemite National Park
There is no wonder that over 4 million people visit Yosemite Valley each year. With cliffs rising 3,000 – 4,000 feet high, and waterfalls twice as high as the Empire State Building, don’t be surprised if you have a sore neck by the end of the day.
Fed mostly by snow melt, the numerous waterfalls of The Valley are far too incredible to describe. The highest is Yosemite Falls. At 2,425 feet, it is one of the tallest in the world. The roar from the falls during the spring runoff echoes throughout the entire valley. The falls in the photo to the left are the famous Bridalveil Falls, the first you will see when entering The Valley. Measuring in at a mere 620 feet, Yosemite Falls is 4 times taller.
Keep an eye out for rock climbers as you travel around The Valley. Yosemite is home to some of the biggest, most challenging climbs on earth. El Capitan is one of the tallest, (over 3,000 feet), and one of the steepest. It was first climbed in 1958 by a group of three pioneers. That first ascent took a total of 47 days! Just recently, in October 2008, a team of climbers recorded the fastest speed ascent to date which was 2 hours, 37 minutes and 5 seconds.
You can’t miss the infamous Half Dome. Rising 4,737 feet above the valley floor, it will dominate many of the views around the Valley. In the 1870’s Half Dome was thought to be inaccessible but was eventually conquered in 1875. Today, thousands of hikers climb Half Dome following very close to the original route. Now climbers have the luxury of a pair of steel cables to use like a hand railing while ascending the steeper sections of the dome.
To visit Yosemite Valley, enter Yosemite via the main entrance on highway 140.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia
Home of the Grizzly Giant, the mariposa grove has several hundred mature giant sequoia trees. Two of which are among the largest in the world.
The Grizzly Giant is said to be up to 2,400 years old. It is 210 feet tall and has a diameter of 30 feet. With a circumference of 92 feet, it would take approximately 16 people to join hands and reach around the tree. Even the lowest branch, (which has now fallen), is 6 feet in diameter.
Another famous tree of the grove is the California Tunnel Tree. A tunnel was cut through this tree in 1895 to allow horse drawn carriages to pass through it. This is the only living tunnel tree since the Wawona Tunnel tree fell in 1969.
To visit the Mariposa Grove, enter Yosemite via the south entrance on highway 41.
Yosemite High Country
More than 4 million people per year visit Yosemite National Park and most never see more than Yosemite Valley. The Valley itself is only about 9 square miles in size. The entire park is almost 1,200 square miles, that’s the size of Rhode Island! It takes just over an hour to drive to the High Country from Yosemite Valley.
From Yosemite Valley take a drive on the Tioga road. Along the way you will find Tenaya Lake. Surrounded by granite domes and High Sierra peaks, it has great beaches for swimming, moderate rock climbing and endless picnicking potential.
A little further up the road is Tuolumne Meadows (pronounced "To All o’ Me", the n is silent), the largest alpine meadow in the Sierra. Here you will find some of the best hiking and fishing in all of Yosemite. Whether you want to take a stroll by the river or climb a 13,000 foot peak, you can do it all in "The Meadows".
Just beyond Tuolumne is Tioga Pass. At 9,943 feet, it is the highest highway pass in the Sierra and all of California. On the "East Side" of Yosemite you will notice a very dramatic change in the terrain. The road drops steeply down to the town of Lee Vining. Along the way you will see great views of Mono Lake, and maybe spy a bighorn sheep.
To visit the Yosemite High Country, enter Yosemite via the main entrance on highway 140.